Q&A: Donavon Smallwood — Languor

01.01.21

Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? I’ve been reading a lot more on absolute idealism and the idea of reality/history creating identity, not that I live by it per se but the readings have been captivating and informing! What will baffle future generations about our day and age? It’s hard to say! I’m sure many things we take for granted or see as moral today will not be seen in the same way in the future. One guess I have is the current public education system. Are you aware of any conspiracies? Oh, man don’t get me started on conspiracies, I can go on about multiple. What do you want? Tartaria? Hollow Earth? Reptilians? JFK? the moon landing? Conspiracies are amazing because there are only a few basic truisms you take on faith that make the entire theory plausible and functional. They remind me of the feeling I got as a child reading fantasy books, they arouse that desire to play make-believe in a new world. What is it that interests you about photography? Growing up I wanted to be an archeologist/ethnographer and I feel like I’m still able to live out that through photography. Not only do I get to record keep and capture memories and sights that would be lost otherwise, but I also get to deeply examine and conceptualize my reality and surroundings.

What is the worst thing about city life? I’m pretty over city life, I’ve lived in NYC my entire life and I realize it’s pretty much an insane asylum. There are too many awful things to even account for; It’s not a shock to me when people leave and talk about the massive improvement in their mental health. There are beautiful moments though, last week it was snowing heavily and walking thru a completely covered downtown — Christmas lights up and reflecting off the white snow brightening up the city at night. What part of the planet would you like to explore? I’ve always dreamt of going to Mongolia for some reason, I don’t know why that place has been in my head for over a decade now. Other than that I just want to see more of America. What do you think is the most plausible of the supernatural? I don’t believe in literal magic or the supernatural, but I think it’s real to the imagination. If you had to align yourself with a leader in history, who would it be? John Adams. Pick a field of science to be an expert within. Lepidopterology. What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? Not so much wish I had my camera but when I shot a lot of street photography in college I would often be afraid to snap a photograph I wanted, sometimes I wish I would have just done it. I don’t have that Bruce Gilden gene in me! Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side. Video game streaming. Describe the most important photo you’ve seen. The most important photo I’ve seen is a group portrait of my ancestors from the late 1800s, super traditional — reminds me of August Sander.

How often do you take other people’s advice? If it’s someone I look up to or I think has a lot of wisdom I’ll take the advice 9 times out of 10. Describe a personal hell. Covid never ends! Which living person do you most admire? Probably Hayao Miyazaki. On what occasion do you lie? I try to be honest at all times. What was the last crime you witnessed? Witnessing crime every day I catch of glimpse of how the US government is handling this pandemic on the news. What is the best way to educate yourself?  I think reading and deeply studying (outside of the academy) what you’re interested in would be the best way to educate yourself. What is the next book you want to read? Next up would be the short prose of Melville. What object do you want? Want? One of those medium format digital downpayment-on-a-house cameras. What object do you need? Need? Nothing at the moment. How would you explain the internet to someone from the 1950s? I would describe it as the strangest thing imaginable and no one is smart enough to avoid using it. It’s a very harsh fluorescent light shone into everything, erasing all depth and shadows you once knew. Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? Not at all, I will be only when I can cut a thick dense log right in half on a cutting block in one strike of a hatchet! Describe a cheap thrill. Playing video games, that’s it. Pick a historic moment from the last hundred years to bring a camera to. Midnight launch of windows 95. Are impulses more important than consequences? Maybe artistic impulses. Which talent would you most like to have? Ambidexterity. What is your plan for the next 24 hours? The next 24 hours will be reading, playing video games, and cleaning!

‘Languor’ is a project that presents itself as an interaction between images of NYC’s Central Park landscape and genuine portraits taken within the space. With the history of the park being constructed by using eminent domain to strip landowning African-Americans of their property/homes in mind, many of which formed this community to escape the unhealthy conditions and racism found in the other inhabited parts of Manhattan – the work is an examination of nature, the negation of civilization, home, and [the possibility of] escape; centering black tranquility among the chaos of nature space, history, and life today.

Donavon Smallwood is an American photographer. He was born, is currently based, and works in New York, New York.

To see more of his work visit — Website / Instagram.